Monday, January 31, 2011

Is that fish and chips for one or two?

Actual pic from the website of our chosen seafood outlet
Yesterday we took our trusty boat for a trip on Sydney Harbour, and as always drew up to the Sydney Fish Markets for lunch.

T'other half and I aren't great indulgers in fast food; in fact the fish 'n' chips we get at the Fish Markets in boating season makes up the bulk of our annual fast food intake - the other exception is sushi, which we have once or twice a week. Last week at the Fish Markets we were sensible and got some grilled snapper fillet with the ubiquitous chips. One piece of fish between us, plus a portion of chips, was ample for our lunch.

This week we decided to get a seafood basket, which consists of a poisonous number of kilojoules, as it's all deep fried. Munching through calamari, fish sticks and prawn cocktails, with better chips than we'd had the week before, I pondered to my husband, "Was this one portion or a meal for two?"

"Only one," he replied.

I was stunned. God, there was a ton of food there! No wonder Australians are piling it on! Seriously, the portion consisted of:

  • about 150 grams of deep fried calamari
  • 2 pieces of deep fried fish stick/seafood stick - say 80 grams
  • 2 battered and fried prawns - about 80 grams
  • about 200 grams of golden, crunchy chips/fries
And all that aimed at one person!

I've been losing weight as a result of the ShapeUpClub website and iPhone app, and when I keyed in my lunch to the app I realised dinner would be very lean indeed if I wished to stick to my daily allowance of kilojoules.

I think the perception is there that you have to have value for money when you buy food either as fast food or at a restaurant. $9.00 for this lunch, which left the two of us stuffed to the gills, is good value for money for the quantity supplied in the portion. But good grief, unless you're going to walk it off afterwards it's a staggering number of kilojoules, particularly if you then tuck into a hearty dinner at the end of the day.
Modern society in the western world makes it all too easy to access stodgy foods which give you a quick sugar and energy hit. Burger or sandwich? Sandwich would be the healthier choice but the burger usually wins, particularly when people have children in tow who pester them for a trip to the Golden Arches. Couple that with society's dependence on the car and you can see the general size of waistbands expanding.

In Victorian times the average woman walked 14km a day, doing housework, running errands, visiting friends. She may have eaten cake for afternoon tea but she undoubtedly earned it. And there weren't the prolferation of cafes that there are now.

Likewise the jaunty, calorie-counting flapper keen to maintain a boyish figure relied heavily on trams and walking in her daily life - oh, and dancing the Charleston at least once a week. If she went to a cafe she'd probably grab a sandwich; the extent of available cheap takeaway food was pretty limited, and while fish and chips was a popular choice these lovely ladies of the past led a lifestyle which helped burn the kilojoules.

Those were the days when you'd go to a circus to see a Fat Lady in the freakshow around the back. I see circus Fat Ladies every day in the supermarket and they take up 2/3 of the width of a supermarket aisle. Not just old-fashioned 'stout' (ie size 16), but enormous women waddling along, often accompanied by similarly large waddling children. Their trolleys are usually brimming with snack foods, soft drinks/cola and frozen fried food. Heck, we don't even have sweet biscuits in the house, unless I make some. We have oatcakes or fruit for snacks. And a smidge, just a little, of Lindt dark chocolate when we feel like it.

One of my interests is life in the 1920s and my indulgence in The Girls' Own Annual and fiction written in or set in that period needs several posts of its own, but the attitude to health and diet back then is a good lesson for people of today. Simple, fresh food in sensibly small portions, lots of exercise. In a time when cars were for the wealthy, exercise was a given. You walked, either all the way to work or to the tram/bus stop. Or you rode a lovely loop frame bike :-). If you walked or cycled to the chippy and got a portion of fish and chips wrapped in yesterday's newspaper, you'd undoubtedly earned it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

When you're baking bread, the sun rises in the yeast.

I mentioned in a post last year that my grandfather was a baker by trade. That post was mainly about organic sourdough bread I'd been buying from the local markets. Sadly we missed getting to the markets in December - we were interstate - and last week, when the markets should have been on they weren't. Something tells me they don't hold them in January; with so many people away on school holidays it's probably not worth their while.

So to get my fix of decent bread I've been baking my own.

My recipe is simple:

450 grams wholemeal flour
300 mls tepid water.
7gms of yeast
equal amount(ish) of raw sugar
a teaspoon of salt.

Mix the sugar and yeast with a little water from the 300mls and let it bubble away for about ten minutes - or at least until you get a head on it that's roughly four or five times the size of the yeast/sugar mix at the bottom.

Put half your flour with the salt into your bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and mix well with a fork. Add the rest of the water (I use it to rinse out the yeast glass first), then mix in the rest of the flour.

At this point I cheat. I use my Mixmaster and set it to between 1 and 2 (kneading) with the dough hooks on for about five minutes. You'll know when the dough is ready because it forms a ball rather than a snake-like shape around the inside of the bowl. It should also feel springy when you press it. Keep an eye on it and don't overknead the dough or you'll get tough bread.

Grease your baking tin. Gently knead the dough into shape by hand and put it in the tin. Leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it doubles in size. This could take between 40-60 minutes. It's summer here now so our patio is prime for that. Meanwhile, heat your oven to about 225-230 Celsius.

When the dough has risen, put it in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. I find 35 minutes is spot on. You'll know when it's ready as if you take the bread out of the tin and tap on the bottom of the loaf it will sound hollow. Let it cool for at least an hour on a rack before cutting and eating.  (Note: what's nice about this wholemeal recipe is that the bread only has to rise once; great for those busy days.)

Here's what the end result looks like:
Once you start making your own bread you'll never want to eat supermarket bread again; you'll keep making your own or finding a good quality artisan baker nearby.

My friend Mark has also been trying his hand at bread-making but with little success. He likes white bread; specifically white bread that is nice and crusty outside and soft inside. With a family of four in his house they go through loaves of bread (Wonder White... ugh!) very quickly. Mark has tried with a bread machine with no success. He doesn't like the crust as it's a bit soft. He's using strong bakers' flour and has tried half a dozen recipes. He's tried fresh yeast and dried yeast, yeast with sugar, yeast with honey. He's tried kneading by hand and baking in the oven. But he ends up feeding most of his loaves to his hens. 

I was at his place yesterday and he gave me a kilo of flour to play with to see if the flour was OK. So today I baked some white bread for a change.

Using Jamie Oliver's bread recipe, which has stood me in good stead in the past for white bread, I made enough dough for a loaf and some rolls. I let my dough rise in the sun (and heck, did it rise!) with a towel over it. 

This recipe calls for the dough to rise twice; the second time it rose a little too much I think and I ended up with a pocket of air under the crust. My grandfather had an answer for customers who complained about an air pocket in their bread: "Cut it out and bring it back then," he'd say kindly. Often it took a while for the penny to drop!

Anyway, here are my rolls and my loaf.
The white loaf - lovely texture. You can see the beginning of the air bubble below though.

Fresh from the oven! The bread has a slightly creamy colour which is probably due to the colour of the yeast and the brown sugar. Unlike commercial bakeries I don't add any bread improver or anything else which could make it that blindingly white colour of commercial white bread.

Hearty rolls! I've put my hand next to one for comparison. 

Look at the texture inside.. just right! Not too dense, and the bread bounces back when you press it. 

So now I'll take this lot to Mark and see if he likes it. Being Mark, a grumpy bugger, and used to Wonder White, he probably won't. This bread has plenty of body and texture, a marvellous taste and no added preservatives. I'm not sure what preservatives might already be in the flour but I certainly haven't added any.

My big aim is to keep up the breadmaking as the year gets busier. It's hard to get the dough rising well in autumn and spring when the temps are just right for me without heating or cooling but not warm enough for my dough. In winter, I put it in front of the heater :-). 

If you haven't made bread before, give my wholemeal recipe a try - it's easier than you think!

Monday, January 10, 2011

In search of the perfect satchel

I love satchels and messenger bags. I like bags I can sling across my body; there is less chance that they'll slide down my arm and annoy me, as normal shoulder bags do. There's also less opportunities for thieves to whip my bag off my shoulder and unlike a backpack (another favourite) my wallet is closer to hand and a little safer.

A couple of years ago I bought a leather satchel on eBay; it was affordable and had enough compartments in it for me. Sadly, it hasn't weathered well. In fact, it's just ...weathered!  The very soft goat leather it's made from is prone to wrinkling and my once smart satchel now looks a bit too laid back and, to use that lovely Aussie word, daggy to take to client meetings.
So at the end of year sales I went in search of another satchel. I can tell you now there is nothing suitable in women's handbag departments or the women's section of bag and luggage shops. Inspired by massive Birkin bags the trend this year is for huge, heavy handbags with shortish straps which mean the bag sits just under your arm, big and unwieldy. 

Heavy handbags can lead to long term damage; a bag, fully laden, shouldn't be more than one tenth of your own weight. Some of the big bags I looked at had the potential to carry far more than any person should unless they weighed more the 120 kgs.

A criteria for my new satchel was a compartment to take my new best friend my iPad. So the satchel had to initially not weigh too much itself, as the iPad weighs close to 1kg. 

Many satchels and messenger bags don't have compartments. I like compartments. Particularly if I'm putting a larger item like an iPad in my bag; compartments make it easier to slot them in and keep them undamaged. In addition compartments help me keep track of items and find them easily in a hurry, rather than have to shuffle around the bottom of my bag looking for a pen or lipstick.

I found what I was looking for in the menswear section of a department store - a lined leather satchel with a sturdy lined strap, in mid-brown nubuck suede. While it wasn't cheap - $200! - it's very well made and I suspect the brand name, Trent Nathan, has something to do with the price. Trent Nathan is an Australian design house whose collections are slightly conservative but not as expensive as they used to be. Had this been one of Trent's women's handbags the price would have been double. (Thinks:... does Trent Nathan even design women's bags any more? Maybe not. The brand was taken over a few years back and the lines have been reduced.) Heaven only knows I've paid more than $200 in my mad, bad past for designer bags. In those days I had a good job so it was justifiable; I've justified the purchase of this satchel as it's well made, unpretentious, not markedly 'this year's fashion' and I'll get several years' worth of use from it.
This, then, is my new bag. No fancy stuff, not obviously blokey, but very practical:
In the main part of the bag there's a zippered section, where I typically keep my keys. Two other pockets are useful for makeup (probably not the designer's intention!). Sadly they are a mite too small for my iPhone in its leather case. Two penholders ensure I can always find a pen in a hurry. On the back side of the bag, which I didn't photograph, is another small zipped section suitable for a handkerchief or tissues.

And below, you can see the iPad sits in the front pocket. The flap happily and securely closes over the top.

Even with my everyday items in the bag - keys, wallet, lipstick, compact, small camera, business cards, a pack of ever-growing loyalty cards, iPhone - there is still plenty of room for small purchases or a water bottle and best of all it doesn't feel too heavy. I'm still toting about 2kg with the iPad on board, but it's a big improvement on a huge women's bag and of course I can ride a bike with this slung across my back.

I'll confess right now I love bags. I have several, ranging from tiny evening bags through leather backpacks to cane and woven zippered basket bags. I swap them around as the occasion or whimsy demands. The more technology I need to use in my work - mobile phones/iPhones, iPads - unfortunately the bigger bag I need. I have my trusty MacBook Pro, which I carry in a briefcase if I head into the office. The briefcase also doubles as a leather tote bag; it's not obviously briefcasey. Because of the iPhone and iPad I've trimmed down the essential stuff I carry in my bag to save weight and allow me to carry a bag that just fits my needs rather than weigh myself down with something that looks like an overnight bag. 

My new bag makes me feel liberated when I see other women toting massive bags. If you have a humungous handbag, what do you carry in it every day? How much does it weigh? Do you notice a soreness in your shoulders? And how the heck do you find things in it?